Traditional Hatha Yoga is a holistic yogic path, including disciplines, postures (asana), purification procedures (shatkriya), gestures (mudra), breathing (pranayama), and meditation. The hatha yoga predominantly practiced in the West consists of mostly asanas understood as physical exercises; it is also recognized as a stress-reducing practice.
Hatha represents the unification of opposing energies: hot and cold, male and female, positive and negative. Hatha Yoga attempts to balance mind and body via physical postures or “asanas”, purification practices, controlled breathing, and the calming of the mind through relaxation and meditation. Asanas teach poise, balance and strength and are practiced to improve the body’s physical health and clear the mind in preparation for meditation.
Hatha yoga consists of six limbs focused on attaining samādhi. In this scheme, the six limbs of hatha yoga are defined as asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samādhi. The basic text of hatha yoga is Hathapradipika by Swatmarama, a grand disciple of Sahajananda (from the lineage of Sopana, the younger brother of Dnyaneshwar Maharaj of Alandi near Pune). An important part of hatha practices is awakening of Kundalini, (the divine force which is lying dormant for most of us, stored at the base of our spine). Some signs of success in hatha yoga are slenderness of the body, cheerful face, hearing mystical sound, bright eyes, sense of well-being, increase in gastric fire and purification of the nadis (the energy channels).
What is the difference between Ashtanga or Vinyasa yoga and Hatha Yoga?
A traditional hatha yoga practice is a complete yogic practice that is unlike any hatha yoga class you might find at your local yoga studio or gym. An authentic hatha practice includes not only asana (yoga posture/s) but also pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation, purification techniques, and mudras. It is the yoga practice most closely related to the tradition of yoga and what the ancient yogi practitioner was practicing thousands of years ago.
Modern yoga variations, like vinyasa yoga and ashtanga yoga, focus mostly on the physical practice of yoga. Where the hatha yoga asana is held for long periods of time to facilitate energy movement throughout the energetic and physical body, vinyasa flow is more like physical exercise made up of a string of yoga postures.
In many cases, the modern yoga class has turned the sacred sun salutation into intense physical exercise, calling it ‘power yoga’ to attract people who are interested in getting fit while also practicing yoga.
In this way, this is not a yogic practice and, truthfully, is not a traditional asana practice either.
If you want to improve your hatha practice, then try incorporating deep breathing exercises and meditation into your regular yoga practice. As your favorite yoga teacher for more information about this ancient yogic practice to gain insights. I’m sure he or she will be excited to talk about traditional yoga with you!